Pai Gow Poker is a very popular variation on the Chinese game of Pai Gow, which is played with tiles or dominoes. In pai gow poker, each player is dealt seven cards, from which they must make two poker hands. If the player’s hands both beat the dealer’s hands, they win their bet at even money, minus a 5% commission.
If the dealer wins both hands, the player loses his bet. If each side wins one of the two hands, the bet results in a push. Because of the large number of ties, pai gow poker is a game in which your money is likely to last for a very long time, making it a great, slow-paced alternative to most casino table games!
How to Play
A hand of pai gow poker starts with each player making a bet. Then, each player is dealt seven cards, as is the dealer. All cards are dealt face down. Each player may look at their own cards.
Each player must arrange their cards into two hands: a five-card hand, which uses regular poker rankings, and a two-card hand, in which the best possible hand is a pair of aces. The cards are dealt from a 53-card deck which also includes a joker. The joker can be used to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush; in all other cases, it counts as an ace.
After all players have arranged their hands, the dealer does the same. The dealer’s hand is always arranged based on the “house way,” a method that varies slightly from casino to casino. The house way is not the exact optimal method for splitting hands, but it comes very close.
After the dealer has arranged his hands, each player compares their hands to those of the dealer. The five-card hands are compared against each other, as are the two-card hands. If the player beats the dealer on both hands, he wins even money on his bet; the house does, however, collect a 5% commission. If the player wins either hand, the bet is a push. If the player loses both hands, he loses his bet.
At many pai gow poker games (particularly in live games), the player will have the opportunity to bank occasionally, playing the role of the casino. In order to do this, the player must have enough money available to pay off all winning bets.
Pai Gow Poker Tips
- Try to be the banker as often as possible. Because the banker (playing the role of the dealer) wins ties, the 5% commission is only taken on the total amount won as the banker as opposed to each hand you win, and the fact that other players at the table may be playing very sub-optimal strategies, playing as the banker can be a lucrative opportunity.
- If your casino will allow you to do so, try paying the commission “up front.” In other words, see if they will let you pay $21 to win $20, rather than $20 to win $19. This cuts into the house edge slightly.
- Learning the entire house way can be a time consuming process, or require a long chart with you at the table. Many online pai gow poker games give you a much simpler option! Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the “house way” button in many online casinos; it may very well save you both time and money in the long run.